Updated: Nov 26, 2020
When life gives you portals, make Q.U.B.E
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Toxic Games
Released: December 17, 2011
I was trawling through my PlayStation Plus library that I have accumulated over the past few years and spotted Q.U.B.E. I have no memory as to when it was added to PS Plus, nor am I going to look that up (Stay Casual), but it certainly stood out to me among my rather large collection. After a courtesy look at screenshots and videos of the game, I thought to myself why not give it a go and see how it turns out. Between the sprawling RPGs and shooters I usually choose to spend my time with, a physics-based puzzle game could be a well-needed break in my usual cycle of playing an RPG, feeling sad once it’s completed after 100 hours, rinse and repeat. Downloaded? Done. Glasses on? Done and done. Controller charged? Mostly! I was ready to rock and/or roll.
I’ve grown accustomed to your physics
Okay so let’s get one thing out of the way - The similarities to the Portal series. Anyone who even has a passing knowledge of those games, will immediately see some easy-to-draw comparisons quite quickly. From the white, sterile environments, the first person perspective, all the way to the silent protagonist performing physics experiments in testing environments. Valve’s series is a clear inspiration for this puzzler and there is nothing wrong with that. Developers of the calibre of Valve’s studios are more than worthy as a source of inspiration and essentially drew the blueprint for games of this particular style. Unless I’m wrong. Please do feel free to prove me wrong.
Q.U.B.E. stands for Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion, I have no idea what that really means, but here we are anyway! The avatar you control is as mentioned silent, and is in possession of a pair of gloves which enable them to perform actions on differently coloured blocks. Using blocks as springboards, rotating the alignment of sections of test environments and eh.. The movement and safe storage of colour coordinated balls? These various different mechanics are introduced at a smooth pace. For each puzzle type there is a soft introduction to the concepts of it before you’re tested with more difficult and expansive conundrums. The pacing here is welcoming and feels like a natural way to introduce the variety of gameplay features, ensuring that players have a solid understanding of them before progressing.
Let’s get physics-al
There is a story present in Q.U.B.E. and my understanding of it is that the player character is aboard an alien vessel, which is set on a collision course with earth. The main character’s objective is to use their suit and gloves to complete the puzzles found onboard which will somehow result in the destruction of said ship before it reaches Earth. This is abooout where my comprehension of the story starts and ends, save for the events of the conclusion. The reason I don’t have a great appreciation for the storyline is due to how it is presented. The story is primarily expressed through narration, which would be no problem at all under normal circumstances, but Q.U.B.E. does not have subtitles. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m the type of person to watch everything with subtitles on and end up reading them more than I listen to the audio, much to my own disappointment. I have bad hearing, okay? (What). That notwithstanding, it is a bit much to expect anyone to pay too much attention to the story you’re trying to tell, when it is driven by narration and you can’t perceive most of it as it’s being told.
There is some credit due to Toxic Games for the story. After some research, it seems as though there wasn’t one present when the game was originally released. A script was penned and voice acting added for the Director’s Cut version, which is the one I played. Additionally, some speedrun levels and a new score was added. This level of post-release support is admirable and certainly warrants some commendation to the development team.
Schrödinger’s source code
The origin of this game and it’s development are a bit different than the usual tale of a bunch of programmers having an idea for a videogame. It started life as a final project for a university student, Daniel Da Rocha. It received strong praise and as a result, Toxic Games were founded. They took the avenue of retaining the rights to the game, while using crowd-funding to fuel its development to completion. What is interesting is that none of the members of the studio are programmers. It’s an unexpected twist in the development tale, but it goes to show what can be accomplished when working within a well-oiled unit. Seeing what can be done without programming skills is quite motivating and uplifting, especially in a world filled with doom and gloom, as it is at the moment.
The graphics are far from AAA quality but they don’t need to be. Because of the design, with the blank, white environments, the pleasing visual quality comes from the use of colour. On your blank canvas, you’ll see vibrant reds, blues and greens sticking out. Not only is this nice to look at, but the colour is a visual cue in that each colour represents a different puzzle element that the player needs to manipulate to progress. Between levels you walk through intermediate sections to go from one test environment to another. As you travel there are some nice animations of walls and sections shifting, as the narration kicks in with some more exposition.
Atoms, they make up everything
So at the end of the day, was it worth playing? For someone who hasn’t played a game of it’s style in probably years, I would say yes! Sure there are some shortcomings as discussed a little while back but in a time where the vast majority of the population are spending their time indoors, you could do a lot worse than engaging your brain in a few physics problems. Between the genuinely challenging levels, secrets and consistent stream of new mechanics, there is plenty to sink your teeth into.
There is a sequel to Q.U.B.E., released in 2018, which has a far more AAA feel and looks to be far more sweeping in scale, not to mention the better critical reception. Should this title not satisfy my need for something a little different, I’ll be sure to check it out.
Until next time, Stay Casual!
Play this game if…
You enjoy physics-based puzzles
You are looking to play something with less story and more gameplay focus
You’re looking for something to get out of your comfort zone
All images taken from the Q.U.B.E. press kit here
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